In the past six months, at least six U.S. universities have canceled scheduled appearances by white supremacist agitator Milo Yiannopoulis. In most cases, the Steve Bannon protégé had been invited by campus Republican groups. The University of Miami was one of the first to cancel, based on security concerns. That speech would have been in June.
NYU canceled a talk set for November. According to the Inside Higher Ed website, Florida Atlantic University canceled a talk that would have occurred in September. At Villanova, a campus group announced Yiannopoulis was coming but the university put out a statement say that wasn’t going to happen.
Yiannopoulis made an appearance at DePaul in May, provoking some fairly strong protest, strong enough that the university nixed a repeat performance planned for the fall.
But UC Berkeley, the campus joined at the hip with free speech, expended considerable time, money and energy to try to accommodate a Yiannopoulis talk on Wednesday and is now being denounced as the campus that killed free speech. (The same thing happened, in less dramatic fashion, at UC Davis earlier, but Davis never had Berkeley’s special reputation.)
Amid a peaceful protest by some 2,000, many of them students, an estimated 150 militants from off campus invaded the campus a couple of hours before the scheduled talk. They broke windows, set fires, set off firecrackers, and hooted and hollered to the point that the university, in consultation with its highly experienced police department, canceled the talk. And across this seemingly intelligent land, conservatives and liberals alike fell for the cheap narrative, taking to social media, letters to the editor and any other forums they could find to denounce UC Berkeley for embracing or even promoting intolerance.
If the university administration had simply wanted to muzzle obnoxious opinion, it could have said no from the start, like so many others had done. There would have been a couple of news stories and our charming new president, the boss of Yiannopoulis’ boss, might have tweeted out something about those hippies out in California. But there would have been no dramatic footage, no fireworks, no visuals to coax poorly informed people to lash out at pointy-headed university types without a moment’s thought to all the places that had simply told Milo to stay away.
This provocation by a man who makes his living by promoting misogyny and racism worked as planned, even prompting Trump to hint at ending federal aid to the UC system.
The propagandists even have some people believing that some rich liberals paid the protesters to disrupt the speech. Try to imagine George Soros handing out cash to the anarchists of the East Bay with instructions to go nuts. People with some semblance of common sense in their day-to-day lives are “liking” Facebook posts with that message and retweeting similar nonsense, without giving any thought at all to NYU or the University of Miami, Florida Atlantic, Villanova or DePaul. Maybe Soros dropped off some cash at those campuses.
Am I saying those other schools should have provided a forum for such a creepy character? In truth, that’s a tough question but here’s the way I lean. When it becomes obvious that the intent of the speaker is to irritate rather than inform, to provoke rather than prod, and it is obvious that someone is going to get hurt, I might unhappily fall into the camp that says that while the First Amendment protects your right to say whatever it is you want to say, it doesn’t require me to give you a forum.
I’m glad the Berkeley brass tried to accommodate the fellow but it should be recognized that keeping him away would not have prevented anyone from receiving his hateful message. Any young person receptive to his world view has received it or could fill the void by clicking on You Tube. The earnest young Republicans at Berkeley and NYU and DePaul who invited Milo, I’m guessing they had more on their minds than enriching the academic experience by bringing in a thought-provoking speaker. Call me cynical, but I’m guessing that some of them were happy when the events were canceled. Point made. Those liberals are just soooo intolerant.
A final point. While I’m disappointed by those who have attacked the university without thinking it through, I’ve also been disappointed by the news coverage. KSBW’s 11 o’clock newscast last night was a fine example. The story line went like this. Controversial speaker was going to talk at Berkeley but the students rioted so it didn’t happen and the president might cut off federal funding and here’s some film. But mind you, this was the newcast Thursday night, not Wednesday night. There was time to gather an interview or two, some information about the identities of the violent protesters and maybe some context about what had happened elsewhere, but, hey, that might have interfered with our wakeup forecast.